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April 20, 2005

Of conscience and medicine

You go and see your doc, who decides you need this or that med, writes you a prescription and sends you off to the drug store.

There, the pharmacist takes a look at the scrip and tells you to forget it -- filling it would violate his/her moral principles. So, you're told, you should just bug off and go someplace else or come back later when maybe some morally inferior person will be on duty and will deign to do their job.

There you stand, slack-jawed in disbelief, ambushed in the cultural wars.

The Illinois front erupted this month when a couple of Chicago-area pharmacists refused to fill birth-control prescriptions. Gov. Rod Blagojevich, sensing a headline, issued an "emergency" order requiring pharmacies that sell contraceptives to fill birth-control prescriptions without delay. A couple of different pharmacists quickly filed suit against the governor, arguing that his order is an unenforceable violation of state law, and would require them to act contrary to their conscience.

So here we are in court, where the only sure result - other than the waste of money and time -- will be that whatever judges handle the matter will be attacked by someone as black-robed devils out to destroy the Republic.

What to make of all this?

While being sensitive to the needs of conscience, I can't work up much sympathy for the refusnik pharmacists. For starters, no one has to be a pharmacist. Neither is there any right to be a pharmacist.

The profession has a code of ethics. It emphasizes the primacy of the patient's needs; and it doesn't say "except when those needs, as determined by doctor and patient, don't suit my moral code."

If you can't in good conscience do the job, don't take it. Vegetarians generally don't work in slaughterhouses. Pacifists generally don't join the Army. People who think dispensing birth control is evil generally ought not be pharmacists.

I'm also sensitive to the notion that the market can take care of this issue; that is, people will simply go to pharmacies and pharmacists that do put customers first. The problem is that there's really no way to know the whens and wheres.

For example, at pharmacy X, you can get your scrip filled if Mr. A is working. If Ms. B's working, though, she won't do it, so you'll go somewhere else, or come back later, or whatever.

That's a situation guaranteed to drive up your blood pressure enough to require medication, assuming of course that the pharmacist on duty doesn't have some moral opposition to it.

John Beydler is news editor at Quad-Cities Online.

Posted by jcb at April 20, 2005 03:02 PM


AMEN!!! I couldn't agree more. Pharmacist do take oths(sp) I don't think dening patients medications is in there ! And what else moral is the courts going to decide for us???? Scares me..

Posted by: Debbie at April 21, 2005 08:15 PM

Next thing you know, the waitress at the cafe will or won't serve you dessert, depending on whether she thinks you're too overweight already.

Posted by: Anonymous at April 22, 2005 08:35 AM

This issue brings up other 'moral' issues, such as an attorney who is violating an unwritten(?) code of ethics by lying to her client's opposition. It's happening right here in the QC. Also, on the line are threats of pursuance if her client's oppostion mentions immoral habits of her client. (did I lose anyone?)

Posted by: Anonymous at April 22, 2005 11:29 AM

Consider: One of the Leading Causes of Death in America is "errors" in the dispensing and ingesting of pharmiceuticals. One would think the above mentioned pharmacists, who profess a deep value for human-life, would get on that Band Wagon!

Posted by: Rachel at April 22, 2005 11:33 AM